(NEW YORK) — Shark attacks have dominated headlines this summer, but beachgoers are now facing a new threat in the water: Portuguese man-of-wars.
The jellyfish-like creatures have been washing up on Eastern shores in record numbers, stinging unsuspecting swimmers with their venomous tentacles that can grow up to 30 feet long. Their stings cause excruciating pain and, in rare cases, even death.
More than 30 Portuguese man-of-wars have reportedly been spotted in the past three weeks on beaches from Delaware with New York.
Seven-year-old Michael Schanz won’t soon forget his experience Tuesday on New York’s Fire Island.
Michael is one of at least three children who were reportedly stung by the venomous creatures off Long Island’s shores this week.
In an interview with WABC-TV in New York, the boy described the pain of the sting, saying it “felt like a thousand bees stinging me at once.”
“He was just screaming, screaming … a lot of pain,” his mother, Sharon Schanz, said.
The Portuguese man-of-war typically floats on the surface of the water. Because to its appearance –an almost translucent, balloon-like body with streaming tentacles attached – beachgoers often mistake them for plastic bags.
In rare cases, their stings can cause dangerous allergic reactions, and even death.
Frank Lepore, senior chief lifeguard for the New York town of Islip on Long Island, told WABC the stings can send children into anaphylactic shock.
Portuguese man-of-wars are tropical water dwellers, but warm ocean currents and strong winds seem to be pushing them closer to Eastern beaches.
Experts say beachgoers should stay away from Portuguese man-of-wars, even if they’re washed up on the shore and not moving.
Matthew Landau, a professor of marine science at New Jersey’s Stockton University, cautioned beachgoers against touching a beached Portuguese man-of-war.
“Tell the lifeguard,” Landau said, adding that Portuguese man-of-wars “can sting even when they’re dead.”
If you are stung by a Portuguese man-of-war, experts advise that you remove the tentacle or stinger using a towel or stick to minimize the risk of the tentacle touching more skin. Then, rinse the area with sea or salt water and do not rub it in.
Later, soak the area to ease the pain. If you begin to experience trouble breathing, seek medical attention immediately.
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